The Climate Crisis is Real, and Our Only Hope is America’s Working Lands

At American Farmland Trust, we know that the climate crisis is real. We also know that farmers, who are on the front lines of climate change every day, can and must play a major role in national efforts to fight it.  

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to testify before the House Subcommittee on the Climate Crisis where I called on Congress to support agriculture as a key partner in fighting climate change. The entire hearing is available to watch here.  

Climate change threatens lives, livelihoods, our food security, and our economy, and it is no longer a distant problem. For farmers there is no more time to waste. The effects of climate change – like the fires threatening farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in California right now  negatively impact our crops, soil, and water.  

 Agriculture does contribute to these challenges, as a net emitter of more than 580 million metric tons of CO2e per year. However, these emissions can be substantially reduced – or even offset – with continued adoption of what are commonly referred to as regenerative, climate-smart, or soil health practices – practices that can pull large quantities of carbon out of the air and store it.  

Working with a USDA colleague, we estimated that if US farmers adopted cover crops on 25% of our cropland and conservation tillage on 100% of tillable acres, we could potentially reduce nearly 150 million metric tons of CO2e per year, or one quarter of the total U.S. agricultural emissions. And there are numerous other practices available that can further reduce these levels. 

These soil health practices, once adopted can not only help save the planet, but also make farmers’ fields more resilient and increase their bottom lines

In order to help more farmers and ranchers adopt these practices, I suggested that Congress take the following immediate actions: 

  1. Expand upon successful, voluntary Farm Bill conservation programs because historically, these programs have more demand than available funding 
  2. Leverage other federal programs and state-level innovations, such as the pilot programs in Iowa and Illinois, that offer reductions on crop insurance premiums for cover crop adoption. 
  3. Support additional research on practices that help address climate change and quantify their impacts to inform farmers and ensure sound public investments.  
  4. Find new ways to fund climate-smart practices and reward farmers for reducing greenhouse gases 

As the leader of AFT’s national Farmers Combat Climate Change initiative, it’s my job to raise awareness about the fact that our nation’s crop and ranch lands offer immediately available, low-cost, and proven ways to address climate change by sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. No other option to combat climate change comes with more of the co-benefits we need for a sustainable future. It is imperative that we work across the political spectrum to make this opportunity a reality. Our farms and our future depend upon it.  

I applaud the committee for exploring the critical issue of agriculture and climate change. We have numerous, scalable opportunities to address climate change with the co-benefits we need for our future. AFT looks forward to working more with policymakers to continue scaling agriculture’s climate change mitigation efforts.